Burundi celebrates its Independence Day every 1 July to commemorate the day in 1962 when the country gained its freedom from Belgian colonial rule.
Today, Independence Day is still an official public holiday in Burundi, but it is not as widely or intensely celebrated as one might expect. That’s because of the long conflict between Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi that existed both before, during, and after the colonial period. The holiday “Unity Day”, created in 1992, is viewed by some as less controversial; yet, the people of Burundi do appreciate the fact that Belgian rule ended on 1 July, and Independence Day still gets some attention and appreciation.
The Tutsi tribe was used by Belgium during colonial times to indirectly rule the country, which caused Hutu resentment. Today, the situation is much more equitable, but only after decades of tension, revolts, and civil war.
Originally, Rwanda and Burundi were ruled together as the colony of Ruanda-urundi. The two colonies were split up at the request of Burundi in 1959, and independence soon followed in 1962.
Burundi, a country located east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) formerly part of German East Africa, Burundi gained its independence under the leadership of Mwami Mwambutsa IV, a Tutsi. In 1965, a Hutu rebellion broke out, leading to brutal Tutsi retaliations. Subsequently, Mwambutsa was deposed by his son, Ntaré V, in 1966. Less than a year after he toppled his father Ntaré was overthrown in a military coup by Premier Michel Micombero, also a Tutsi.
Burundi is one of the few countries in Africa, along with its neighbour Rwanda among others (such as Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland), to be a direct territorial continuation of a pre-colonial era African state. The early history of Burundi, and especially the role and nature of the country’s three dominant ethnic groups; the Twa, Hutu and Tutsi, is highly debated amongst academics. However, it is important to note that the nature of culture and ethnic groups is always fluid and changing. While the groups might have migrated to the area at different times and as distinctly different ethnic groups, the current distinctions are contemporary socio-cultural constructs. Initially the different ethnic groups lived together in relative peace. The first conflicts between ethnic groups can be dated back to the 17th century, when land was becoming ever more scarce because of the continuous growth in population.